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Guglielmo Marconi

pioneer of long-distance radio transmission

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, on April 25, 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, a wealthy Italian landowner, and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson. He was educated privately, and then attended Cappellini Technical Nautical Institute in Livorno, Italy.

Marconi's interest in radio began with an 1894 article suggesting the possibility of using radio waves to communicate without wires. He began began experimenting at his family's home near Bologna, and within a year he had sent and received signals beyond the range of vision (including over a hill), and then up to a distance of two miles.

The Italian government was not interested in Marconi's work, so Marconi went to England, where his demonstration was greeted enthusiastically by Sir William Peece, Chief Engineer of the Post Office. With funding from Peece, Marconi received a patent for wireless telegraphy in 1896, and the next year he formed the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Limited. The British Admiralty began installing Marconi's radio equipment in some of its ships almost immediately. By 1899 Marconi's company was providing wireless service between Britain and France, broadcasting across the English Channel. In 1900, Marconi invented a system of tuned multiplex telegraphy, allowing multiple broadcasts to be sent on distinct frequencies.

Most people believed that the curvature of the earth would prevent sending a radio signal much farther than 200 miles. Marconi proved them wrong on December 12, 1901, when he transmitted the first wireless signals between Poldhu, Cornwall and St, Johns, New Foundland, a distance of 2,100 miles.

After 1905, Marconi spent much of his time as an entrepreneur, surrounded by a talented staff of engineers and administrators, developing wireless telegraphy. Attempts to introduce a transatlantic wireless press service in 1903 proved premature, but in 1907 commercial communication was established between Marconi stations at Clifden in western Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. In 1909 he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with Karl Ferdinand Braun whose modifications to Marconi's transmitters significantly increased their range and usefulness. During World War I, Marconi began experiments on shortwave radio and on aerials designed to transmit along narrow beams to minimize detection by an enemy. He spent much of the next decade continuing the shortwave investigations begun in wartime, making useful discoveries, but none that competed with the postwar development of radiotelephony and voice radio.

Guglielmo Marconi died in Rome on July 20, 1937, following a series of heart attacks.

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This page was last updated on July 20, 2018.